“I’m not the sort of person to get gassed up and have a fucking ego”
As he throws an overly excited punter over his shoulders mid way through his set at SXSW in Texas, it’s clear to see just why there is no other rapper on the planet like Action Bronson. What happens at his gigs is not seen anywhere else in the music industry. Whether or not we should opt for something far more PC, handicapped (his words) Tommie is taken out of the crowd and carried up on to the stage. “It’s become a thing now.” Action explains. “I used to put them on my shoulder to make them feel good and now mad dudes come straight to the front in wheelchairs just to be put on my shoulder.” He’s not lying. Standing in the crowd you witness the rush. The crowd part to help clear the way for those so desperate to be chosen to be part of the show. His empathy is genuine and as Tommie rejoins him later on stage he grabs the microphone and slickly raps his own bars over Bam Bam’s beat. The crowd goes completely wild and it’s safe to say that Tommie has the time of his life.
Action is a showman. His brazen red beard, plus sized demeanor and arid sense of humour have catapulted him to success on the underground scene and you can see why. Lyrically he is a poetic genius leaving fans rewinding his tracks and analysing every word to his graphic humour and razor sharp wit. Not bad for someone who had no idea that music was going to be his final career choice. Starting out as a well-respected fire-flame gourmet chef in America’s Big Apple, Bam Bam accidently found he was a lyricist whilst chilling out writing rhymes with his mates. “I always knew I loved it, I just didn’t know I could make it. I liked it so much that I didn’t wait for anybody. It was a release for me. I started progressing and somehow it became serious. There was never any music in my life besides listening to it.”
Sitting back in to his chair at his room in the W Hotel with a big burly grin, Bronson inhales happily on his own brand of vaporiser. Being the first rapper to have one manufactured, the ‘G Pen’ takes concentrated weed extract (wax) and works almost the same as an electronic cigarette. “Everyone in Cali has them and now everyone in New York has them. They’re not legal. I don’t have my own brand of drugs, I would like it but that’s not yet. It’s a good side deal for me and it’s good branding. You can travel with it and they’ve been on tour with me. No one knows what it is, I get trashed on the plane and no one knows. The shit set off the fire alarm yesterday. I just pretend it’s an electronic cigarette. It’s a cleaner high.”
Stop right there, smoking drugs on a plane and getting away with it? Is he for real? Surely the security palaver we all have to go through at the airport nowadays must be one step ahead? “I just put it in my bag and do what I do but when I came off the plane recently, my bag didn’t show up, it was then the last fucking bag. I picked it up and was about to leave and they asked me to go with them. They checked the bag and found the pens. I told them it was an electronic cigarette and I had the wax folded up. They found it and asked me what it was so I told them it was vegetable glycerin for the cigarettes, they did swabs and it came up negative. They folded up the parchment paper, put it back in the box and said have a great day.” As Bam Bam is telling the story you can tell he is clearly very pleased with himself. Most of us struggle to get through with deodorant without having to put it in a clear plastic bag, take off our shoes and be overly frisked by a grumpy guy with a hearty moustache. Here he is running circles around the system and he is clearly very smug about it. How does it make him feel getting one up on the law? “Like a rock” he laughs while making a fist with his right arm and raising it forty-five degrees.
Smoking marijuana for Bronson is part of his daily routine just as most of us brush our teeth, have breakfast and go to work every day. It is part of who he is and it’s entangled in the music that he creates. “It’s an accompaniment to life. It’s not something that I do to rap; I smoke when I open my eyes. I’m addicted to the feeling. I don’t know any other feeling.” He writes when he’s high, performs when he’s high and very rarely steps back into the matrix unless he has to. With the greats from Music, Film and Art all documenting some of their best work whilst in an altered state, Bronson has found a place where his creativity is unrivaled. “My good friend The Alchemist likes to call it slideshow rap. It’s just constant pictures of different things going through your brain. When I broke my leg, I didn’t smoke and I couldn’t do anything, as I’m allergic to painkillers. I just wrote and it was actually pretty good. I think you’re able to reflect more and stay focused as opposed to making yourself laugh.”
With lucrative side deals and sell out live shows Bronson’s has turned his music career in to a business. Traveling all over the world, staying in top class hotels and with the money to buy the finer things in life, he still insists on keeping two feet on the floor. “My life hasn’t changed much at all, people just want more of you. I like to keep my life as close to what it was before. I’m not the sort of person to get gassed up and have a fucking ego. I’m a blue-collar type of dude. I might have money but I don’t show it. I’m not flashy. I like cars and houses and things that are worth things.” After buying his first cash deal car recently, Bam Bam is a BMW enthusiast and handed over $30,000 for a 95 5 series without having to sign any finance or paper to drive it away. Being tied in with Vice and signed to a major record label, he survives on giving away his music for free and then living off the hype and live revenue that it creates. The only thing he has for sale is his first ever project ‘Dr Lecter’ which gives him a steady income from downloads. The music industry is changing and it seems the artists of today are not only entrepreneurs but shape shifting hustlers too. An industry based on illusion and a dog eat dog struggle to survive in a declining market. “There’s a lot of funny business going on and you don’t realise it when you just listen to the music. I know about it now, a lot of the men I assumed were my heroes are like pieces of garbage, you wish you hadn’t met them as it can ruin your vision” Bronson explains “People I assumed were my heroes, people I didn’t expect it from. And then there are people I met who I didn’t expect to be great, I thought they’d be dicks but they were just fucking cool. I like people who are just cool, I don’t give a fuck who they are.”
With the conversation meandering from rap to marijuana, cars and cash Bam Bam throws a curve ball uncovering a completely different side to his personality. He loves farmers markets, doing Thai Chi in the mornings and playing with his kids in the park. Having had children with his first love when he was just seventeen years old, he takes his role as a father seriously even though he now loves living life a single guy. “Girls just throw themselves at you. I’m not looking for a girlfriend, unless it’s someone who doesn’t know who I am. I’m not going to say no but it’s not easy to find your soul mate in the music industry when you’re around groupies, you never know what they want from you. I’m about to be 30 years old and I don’t want to get caught up in any type of fuckery.” With stories of drug fuelled group sex and on tour debauchery, Bronson is straight talking and honest about life on the road.
With the freedom of the Internet his music is now accessible to anyone and everyone. Today’s kids are constantly pushing boundaries and having the freedom to get their hands on the things that they know their parents won’t approve of and it’s Bronson’s gritty and graphic material that is next in line. So whose responsibility is it and should he care that his profanities are trickling in to the ears of our menacing youth? “I don’t have to worry about it. Their parents have to be their role models. When I was young, my mother let me listen to all kinds of shit even though my father didn’t. I’d always find a way to listen. There was no Internet when I was growing up and we had to go out and get it. Kids these days can Google me and know who I am in two seconds. It’s crazy. Before you had to wait for a video to come out, then wait for the album. You had to save up birthday money or money from the tooth fairy but it was a different process back then.”
With his “Good hoodie, shorty got the good pussy, sniff coke off a crisp hundred” lyrics in Gateway to Wizardry is he not falling in to the same lane as every other rapper in the scene? With fame comes both pressure and responsibility but Bam Bam’s focus is on mastering his art as apposed to the implications of his lyrics. “I don’t live my life as a role model, there’s a lot of things people can learn from me but I’m not perfect. I’m scum. I make bad decisions. Everyone does scummy things. I react to shit and I can be very harsh with words. I have a bad temper; I’ve tried to work on it for years. No-one’s perfect and I see a lot of young fans in the street, so I always think that whatever happens or whatever I say, at the end of the day, I can only be me.”
In an industry fanatical about the way you look and peoples perception of who they think you are, life as an artist can be tough. Constantly keeping ahead of you’re competition and brushing off judgments made on not only the music you put out but by the trainers that you’re rocking. It’s ironic that Action Bronson is somehow a breath of fresh air. He goes against every single stereotype in the rap game that has gone before him. “I have no issues with anybody, especially with how they look. I look wild; I’m very weird to a lot of people. No one is gonna help me when I need help and no one gives a fuck about me in real life. Everything is a fucking illusion.” As he jokes about being the next Daniel Day Lewis acting as a leading man in a romantic comedy the lines between reality and marijuana fantasy blur in to one. The vaporizer is passed around, the jokes continue and the most important question of the interview flies out in to the ether. Has he ever crowd surfed? “Yeah of course! I jump right in, if they catch me, they catch me.” Bronson has no boundaries. What a hero.